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Four-Day Planet

Four-Day Planet

Henry Beam Piper

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1 The Ship from Terra

  • I went through the gateway, towing my equipment in a contragravity hamper ove_y head. As usual, I was wondering what it would take, short of a revolution, to get the city of Port Sandor as clean and tidy and well lighted as th_paceport area. I knew Dad's editorials and my sarcastic news stories wouldn'_o it. We'd been trying long enough.
  • The two girls in bikinis in front of me pushed on, still gabbling about th_ight one of them had had with her boy friend, and I closed up behind the hal_ozen monster-hunters in long trousers, ankle boots and short boat-jackets, with big knives on their belts. They must have all been from the same crew, because they weren't arguing about whose ship was fastest, had the toughes_kipper, and made the most money. They were talking about the price of tallow- wax, and they seemed to have picked up a rumor that it was going to be cu_nother ten centisols a pound. I eavesdropped shamelessly, but it was the sam_umor I'd picked up, myself, a little earlier.
  • "Hi, Walt," somebody behind me called out. "Looking for some news that's fi_o print?"
  • I turned my head. It was a man of about thirty-five with curly brown hair an_ wide grin. Adolf Lautier, the entertainment promoter. He and Dad each owne_ share in the Port Sandor telecast station, and split their time between hi_usic and drama-films and Dad's newscasts.
  • "All the news is fit to print, and if it's news the Times prints it," I tol_im. "Think you're going to get some good thrillers this time?"
  • He shrugged. I'd just asked that to make conversation; he never had any way o_nowing what sort of films would come in. The ones the Peenemünde was bringin_hould be fairly new, because she was outbound from Terra. He'd go over wha_as aboard, and trade one for one for the old films he'd shown already.
  • "They tell me there's a real Old-Terran-style Western been showing on Völun_hat ought to be coming our way this time," he said. "It was filmed in Sout_merica, with real horses."
  • That would go over big here. Almost everybody thought horses were as extinc_s dinosaurs. I've seen so-called Westerns with the cowboys riding Freya_ukry. I mentioned that, and then added:
  • "They'll think the old cattle towns like Dodge and Abilene were awful siss_laces, though."
  • "I suppose they were, compared to Port Sandor," Lautier said. "Are you goin_board to interview the distinguished visitor?"
  • "Which one?" I asked. "Glenn Murell or Leo Belsher?"
  • Lautier called Leo Belsher something you won't find in the dictionary bu_hich nobody needs to look up. The hunters, ahead of us, heard him an_aughed. They couldn't possibly have agreed more. He was going to continu_ith the fascinating subject of Mr. Leo Belsher's ancestry and persona_haracteristics, and then bit it off short. I followed his eyes, and saw ol_rofessor Hartzenbosch, the principal of the school, approaching.
  • "Ah, here you are, Mr. Lautier," he greeted. "I trust that I did not keep yo_aiting." Then he saw me. "Why, it's Walter Boyd. How is your father, Walter?"
  • I assured him as to Dad's health and inquired about his own, and then aske_im how things were going at school. As well as could be expected, he told me, and I gathered that he kept his point of expectation safely low. Then h_anted to know if I were going aboard to interview Mr. Murell.
  • "Really, Walter, it is a wonderful thing that a famous author like Mr. Murel_hould come here to write a book about our planet," he told me, ver_eriously, and added, as an afterthought: "Have you any idea where he intend_taying while he is among us?"
  • "Why, yes," I admitted. "After the Peenemünde radioed us their passenger list, Dad talked to him by screen, and invited him to stay with us. Mr. Murel_ccepted, at least until he can find quarters of his own."
  • There are a lot of good poker players in Port Sandor, but Professor Ja_artzenbosch is not one of them. The look of disappointment would have bee_omical if it hadn't been so utterly pathetic. He'd been hoping to lass_urell himself.
  • "I wonder if Mr. Murell could spare time to come to the school and speak t_he students," he said, after a moment.
  • "I'm sure he could. I'll mention it to him, Professor," I promised.
  • Professor Hartzenbosch bridled at that. The great author ought to be coming t_is school out of respect for him, not because a seventeen-year-old cu_eporter sent him. But then, Professor Hartzenbosch always took the attitud_hat he was conferring a favor on the Times when he had anything he wante_ublicity on.
  • The elevator door opened, and Lautier and the professor joined in the push t_et into it. I hung back, deciding to wait for the next one so that I coul_et in first and get back to the rear, where my hamper wouldn't be in people'_ay. After a while, it came back empty and I got on, and when the crowd pushe_ff on the top level, I put my hamper back on contragravity and towed it ou_nto the outdoor air, which by this time had gotten almost as cool as a bake- oven.
  • I looked up at the sky, where everybody else was looking. The Peenemünd_asn't visible; it was still a few thousand miles off-planet. Big ragge_louds were still blowing in from the west, very high, and the sunset was eve_righter and redder than when I had seen it last, ten hours before. It was no_bout 1630.
  • Now, before anybody starts asking just who's crazy, let me point out that thi_s not on Terra, nor on Baldur nor Thor nor Odin nor Freya, nor any othe_ational planet. This is Fenris, and on Fenris the sunsets, like many othe_hings, are somewhat peculiar.
  • Fenris is the second planet of a G{4 star, six hundred and fifty light-year_o the Galactic southwest of the Sol System. Everything else equal, it shoul_ave been pretty much Terra type; closer to a cooler primary and getting abou_he same amount of radiation. At least, that's what the book says. I was bor_n Fenris, and have never been off it in the seventeen years since.
  • Everything else, however, is not equal. The Fenris year is a trifle shorte_han the Terran year we use for Atomic Era dating, eight thousand and a fe_dd Galactic Standard hours. In that time, Fenris makes almost exactly fou_xial rotations. This means that on one side the sun is continuously in th_ky for a thousand hours, pouring down unceasing heat, while the other side i_n shadow. You sleep eight hours, and when you get up and go outside—in a_nsulated vehicle, or an extreme-environment suit—you find that the shadow_ave moved only an inch or so, and it's that much hotter. Finally, the su_rawls down to the horizon and hangs there for a few days—periods of twenty- four G.S. hours—and then slides slowly out of sight. Then, for about a hundre_ours, there is a beautiful unfading sunset, and it's really pleasan_utdoors. Then it gets darker and colder until, just before sunrise, it get_lmost cold enough to freeze CO{2 . Then the sun comes up, and we begin al_ver again.
  • You are picking up the impression, I trust, that as planets go, Fenris i_obody's bargain. It isn't a real hell-planet, and spacemen haven't made _wear word out of its name, as they have with the name of fluorine-atmospher_ifflheim, but even the Reverend Hiram Zilker, the Orthodox-Monophysit_reacher, admits that it's one of those planets the Creator must have gotten _rifle absent-minded with.
  • The chartered company that colonized it, back at the end of the Fourth Centur_.E., went bankrupt in ten years, and it wouldn't have taken that long i_ommunication between Terra and Fenris hadn't been a matter of six months eac_ay. When the smash finally came, two hundred and fifty thousand colonist_ere left stranded. They lost everything they'd put into the company, which, for most of them, was all they had. Not a few lost their lives before th_ederation Space Navy could get ships here to evacuate them.
  • But about a thousand, who were too poor to make a fresh start elsewhere an_oo tough for Fenris to kill, refused evacuation, took over all the equipmen_nd installations the Fenris Company had abandoned, and tried to make a livin_ut of the planet. At least, they stayed alive. There are now twenty-od_housand of us, and while we are still very poor, we are very tough, and w_rag about it.
  • There were about two thousand people—ten per cent of the planetar_opulation—on the wide concrete promenade around the spaceport landing pit. _ame out among them and set down the hamper with my telecast cameras an_ecorders, wishing, as usual, that I could find some ten or twelve-year-ol_id weak-minded enough to want to be a reporter when he grew up, so that _ould have an apprentice to help me with my junk.
  • As the star—and only—reporter of the greatest—and only—paper on the planet, _as always on hand when either of the two ships on the Terra-Odin milk run, the Peenemünde and the Cape Canaveral, landed. Of course, we always talk t_hem by screen as soon as they come out of hyperspace and into radio range, and get the passenger list, and a speed-recording of any news they ar_arrying, from the latest native uprising on Thor to the latest politica_candal on Venus. Sometime the natives of Thor won't be fighting anybody a_ll, or the Federation Member Republic of Venus will have some nonscandalou_olitics, and either will be the man-bites-dog story to end man-bites-do_tories. All the news is at least six months old, some more than a year. _paceship can log a light-year in sixty-odd hours, but radio waves still craw_long at the same old 186,000 mps.
  • I still have to meet the ships. There's always something that has to be picke_p personally, usually an interview with some VIP traveling through. Thi_ime, though, the big story coming in on the Peenemünde was a local item.
  • Paradox? Dad says there is no such thing. He says a paradox is either a verba_ontradiction, and you get rid of it by restating it correctly, or it's _tructural contradiction, and you just call it an impossibility and let it g_t that. In this case, what was coming in was a real live author, who wa_oing to write a travel book about Fenris, the planet with the four-day year.
  • Glenn Murell, which sounded suspiciously like a nom de plume, and nobody her_ad ever heard of him.
  • That was odd, too. One thing we can really be proud of here, besides th_oughness of our citizens, is our public library. When people have to sta_nderground most of the time to avoid being fried and/or frozen to death, the_ave a lot of time to kill, and reading is one of the cheaper and mor_armless and profitable ways of doing it. And travel books are a specia_avorite here. I suppose because everybody is hoping to read about a wors_lace than Fenris. I had checked on Glenn Murell at the library. None of th_ibrarians had ever heard of him, and there wasn't a single mention of him i_ny of the big catalogues of publications.
  • The first and obvious conclusion would be that Mr. Glenn Murell was som_windler posing as an author. The only objection to that was that I couldn'_uite see why any swindler would come to Fenris, or what he'd expect t_windle the Fenrisians out of. Of course, he could be on the lam fro_omewhere, but in that case why bother with all the cover story? Some of ou_etter-known citizens came here dodging warrants on other planets.
  • I was still wondering about Murell when somebody behind me greeted me, and _urned around. It was Tom Kivelson.
  • Tom and I are buddies, when he's in port. He's just a shade older than I am; he was eighteen around noon, and my eighteenth birthday won't come til_idnight, Fenris Standard Sundial Time. His father is Joe Kivelson, th_kipper of the Javelin; Tom is sort of junior engineer, second gunner, an_bout third harpooner. We went to school together, which is to say a couple o_ears at Professor Hartzenbosch's, learning to read and write and put figure_ogether. That is all the schooling anybody on Fenris gets, although Jo_ivelson sent Tom's older sister, Linda, to school on Terra. Anybody who stay_ere has to dig out education for himself. Tom and I were still digging fo_urs.
  • Each of us envied the other, when we weren't thinking seriously about it. _magined that sea-monster hunting was wonderfully thrilling and romantic, an_om had the idea that being a newsman was real hot stuff. When we actuall_topped to think about it, though, we realized that neither of us would trad_obs and take anything at all for boot. Tom couldn't string thre_entences—no, one sentence—together to save his life, and I'm just a town bo_ho likes to live in something that isn't pitching end-for-end every minute.
  • Tom is about three inches taller than I am, and about thirty pounds heavier.
  • Like all monster-hunters, he's trying to grow a beard, though at present it'_ust a blond chin-fuzz. I was surprised to see him dressed as I was, in short_nd sandals and a white shirt and a light jacket. Ordinarily, even in town, h_ears boat-clothes. I looked around behind him, and saw the brass tip of _cabbard under the jacket. Any time a hunter-ship man doesn't have his knif_n, he isn't wearing anything else. I wondered about his being in port now. _new Joe Kivelson wouldn't bring his ship in just to meet the Peenemünde, wit_nly a couple of hundred hours' hunting left till the storms and the cold.
  • "I thought you were down in the South Ocean," I said.
  • "There's going to be a special meeting of the Co-op," he said. "We only hear_bout it last evening," by which he meant after 1800 of the previous Galacti_tandard day. He named another hunter-ship captain who had called the Javeli_y screen. "We screened everybody else we could."
  • That was the way they ran things in the Hunters' Co-operative. Steve Ravic_ould wait till everybody had their ships down on the coast of Hermann Reuch'_and, and then he would call a meeting and pack it with his stooges an_ooligans, and get anything he wanted voted through. I had always wondered ho_ong the real hunters were going to stand for that. They'd been standing fo_t ever since I could remember anything outside my own playpen, which, o_ourse, hadn't been too long.
  • I was about to say something to that effect, and then somebody yelled, "Ther_he is!" I took a quick look at the radar bowls to see which way they wer_ointed and followed them up to the sky, and caught a tiny twinkle through _loud rift. After a moment's mental arithmetic to figure how high she'd hav_o be to catch the sunlight, I relaxed. Even with the telephoto, I'd only ge_ picture the size of a pinhead, so I fixed the position in my mind and the_ooked around at the crowd.
  • Among them were two men, both well dressed. One was tall and slender, wit_mall hands and feet; the other was short and stout, with a scrubby gray-brow_ustache. The slender one had a bulge under his left arm, and the short-and- stout job bulged over the right hip. The former was Steve Ravick, the boss o_he Hunters' Co-operative, and his companion was the Honorable Morto_allstock, mayor of Port Sandor and consequently the planetary government o_enris.
  • They had held their respective positions for as long as I could remembe_nything at all. I could never remember an election in Port Sandor, or a_lection of officers in the Co-op. Ravick had a bunch of goons an_riggermen—I could see a couple of them loitering in the background—who kep_own opposition for him. So did Hallstock, only his wore badges and calle_hemselves police.
  • Once in a while, Dad would write a blistering editorial about one or the othe_r both of them. Whenever he did, I would put my gun on, and so would Juli_ubanoff, the one-legged compositor who is the third member of the Time_taff, and we would take turns making sure nobody got behind Dad's back.
  • Nothing ever happened, though, and that always rather hurt me. Those tw_acketeers were in so tight they didn't need to care what the Times printed or
  • 'cast about them.
  • Hallstock glanced over in my direction and said something to Ravick. Ravic_ave a sneering laugh, and then he crushed out the cigarette he was smoking o_he palm of his left hand. That was a regular trick of his. Showing how toug_e was. Dad says that when you see somebody showing off, ask yourself whethe_e's trying to impress other people, or himself. I wondered which was the cas_ith Steve Ravick.
  • Then I looked up again. The Peenemünde was coming down as fast as she coul_ithout over-heating from atmosphere friction. She was almost buckshot size t_he naked eye, and a couple of tugs were getting ready to go up and meet her.
  • I got the telephoto camera out of the hamper, checked it, and aimed it. It ha_ shoulder stock and handgrips and a trigger like a submachine gun. I caugh_he ship in the finder and squeezed the trigger for a couple of seconds. I_ould be about five minutes till the tugs got to her and anything els_appened, so I put down the camera and looked around.
  • Coming through the crowd, walking as though the concrete under him wa_itching and rolling like a ship's deck on contragravity in a storm, was Bis_are. He caught sight of us, waved, overbalanced himself and recovered, an_hen changed course to starboard and bore down on us. He was carrying abou_is usual cargo, and as usual the manifest would read, Baldur honey-rum, fro_arry Wong's bar.
  • Bish wasn't his real name. Neither, I suspected, was Ware. When he'd firs_anded on Fenris, some five years ago, somebody had nicknamed him the Bishop, and before long that had gotten cut to one syllable. He looked like a bishop, or at least like what anybody who's never seen a bishop outside a screen-pla_ould think a bishop looked like. He was a big man, not fat, but tall an_ortly; he had a ruddy face that always wore an expression of benevolen_isdom, and the more cargo he took on the wiser and more benevolent he looked.
  • He had iron-gray hair, but he wasn't old. You could tell that by the backs o_is hands; they weren't wrinkled or crepy and the veins didn't protrude. An_runk or sober—though I never remembered seeing him in the latter condition—h_ad the fastest reflexes of anybody I knew. I saw him, once, standing at th_ar in Harry Wong's, knock over an open bottle with his left elbow. He spu_alf around, grabbed it by the neck and set it up, all in one motion, withou_pilling a drop, and he went on talking as though nothing had happened. He wa_uoting Homer, I remembered, and you could tell that he was thinking in th_riginal ancient Greek and translating to Lingua Terra as he went.
  • He was always dressed as he was now, in a conservative black suit, the jacke_ trifle longer than usual, and a black neckcloth with an Uller organic-opa_in. He didn't work at anything, but quarterly—once every planetary day—_raft on the Banking Cartel would come in for him, and he'd deposit it wit_he Port Sandor Fidelity & Trust. If anybody was unmannerly enough to ask hi_bout it, he always said he had a rich uncle on Terra.
  • When I was a kid—well, more of a kid than I am now—I used to believe he reall_as a bishop—unfrocked, of course, or ungaitered, or whatever they call i_hen they give a bishop the heave-ho. A lot of people who weren't kids stil_elieved that, and they blamed him on every denomination from Anglicans to Ze_uddhists, not even missing the Satanists, and there were all sorts o_heories about what he'd done to get excommunicated, the mildest of which wa_hat somewhere there was a cathedral standing unfinished because he'd hypere_ut with the building fund. It was generally agreed that his ecclesiastica_rganization was paying him to stay out there in the boondocks where h_ouldn't cause them further embarrassment.
  • I was pretty sure, myself, that he was being paid by somebody, probably hi_amily, to stay out of sight. The colonial planets are full of that sort o_emittance men.
  • Bish and I were pretty good friends. There were certain old ladies, of bot_exes and all ages, of whom Professor Hartzenbosch was an example, who too_ad to task occasionally for letting me associate with him. Dad simply ignore_hem. As long as I was going to be a reporter, I'd have to have news sources, and Bish was a dandy. He knew all the disreputable characters in town, whic_aved me having to associate with all of them, and it is sad but true that yo_et very few news stories in Sunday school. Far from fearing that Bish woul_e a bad influence on me, he rather hoped I'd be a good one on Bish.
  • I had that in mind, too, if I could think of any way of managing it. Bish ha_een a good man, once. He still was, except for one thing. You could tell tha_efore he'd started drinking, he'd really been somebody, somewhere. The_omething pretty bad must have happened to him, and now he was here on Fenris, trying to hide from it behind a bottle. Something ought to be done to give hi_ shove up on his feet again. I hate waste, and a man of the sort he must hav_een turning himself into the rumpot he was now was waste of the worst kind.
  • It would take a lot of doing, though, and careful tactical planning. Preachin_t him would be worse than useless, and so would simply trying to get him t_top drinking. That would be what Doc Rojansky, at the hospital, would cal_reating the symptoms. The thing to do was make him want to stop drinking, an_ didn't know how I was going to manage that. I'd thought, a couple of times, of getting him to work on the Times, but we barely made enough money out of i_or ourselves, and with his remittance he didn't need to work. I had a lot o_ther ideas, now and then, but every time I took a second look at one, it go_ick and died.